Fargo Season 1 Review

By Eli Ralston

This year has been one of the greatest in television in known memory with such high caliber shows such as Game of Thrones, Mad Men, True Detective, House of Cards and Breaking Bad, which will be known as one of the greatest shows in television history. Many TV Buffs, myself included, would say that we are living in the golden age of television, where cable networks, premium channels and online streaming services like Netflix are producing compelling dramas that keep you invested for months on end, with production qualities that rival with some of the biggest Hollywood pictures.

    With such quality programming being produced its hard to believe that another show with the same story telling power like Breaking Bad, or True Detective could come along in the same year. Believe it, folks, because Fargo is one of the best shows to come out of television in the past five years. Fargo uses a brilliant mix of humor and drama in some of the most compelling episodes of television that I have ever watched. From the very first episode I was on a roller coaster ride that made me laugh, feel stressed out and get genuinely upset with the characters.
    It’s been nearly 20 years since the Coen brothers’ classic original 1996 Fargo feature film. Both NBC and CBS passed on the television adaptation, so FX decided to pick up the show–and thank goodness they did. Fargo has turned out to be a perfect fit for the 10-episode “limited series” formula that we have seen used by American Horror Story and True Detective.

At the beginning of each episode you will see the same disclaimer as the original film. It claims that “This is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” While this makes for a nice opening, that’s not entirely the case, the Coen’s and writer Noah Hawley have compiled the story from various more or less real-life incidents. You will also see them connect the show to the original film with some fun Easter eggs that are a nice treats for fans of the film.

The story begins with Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) crashing a car into the snow and the man he has escapes out of the trunk into the woods and eventually freezes to death. Without knowing why this happened you just see Malvo calmly walk away without even worrying about tracking down the man he just kidnapped.

Billy Bob Thornton’s malevolent Lorne Malvo stalks through Minnesota like the Joker in The Dark Knight, causing all kinds of chaos through the small town of Bemidji. He goes about ending or destroying lives whenever it suits his purpose. Collateral damage is just the cost of business to him and he quietly and calmly goes through his business. But he is not some mad dog that is just off his leash, he seems to have some twisted set of morals that guides him to some of his decisions that were actually bad for business. Thornton does a spectacular job playing Malvo, and he steals the show in every scene he’s in with his brilliant blend of humor and malevolence.

    But one of the best and most interesting aspects of the show was watching the complete transformation of Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) from a quiet, shy, and weak insurance salesman into an evil killer that who will throw anyone, and I mean any one, under the bus in order to get what he wants. The dynamic between both Nygaard and Malvo is a fun story to watch, as its kind of like Malvo created what Lester has become. And to see it come back towards him in a one-on-one between the sort-of student/master relationship was a true joy to watch. Martin Freeman is absolutely spectacular, showing that he can easily play both a shy, quiet man, and switch to a cold and calculating killer. He really makes you feel like this has been a transition based on years of built-up aggression.

There are also plenty of great performances from the supporting cast from the likes of Allison Tolman, who plays Molly Solverson, a police officer very reminiscent of Frances McDormand’s character from the original film. Tolman fills the shoes well as a determined police officer who has to get around the incompetence of the new police chief, wonderfully played by Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk, after the murder of the old chief by Malvo. Other players include Colin Hanks, who is a not-so-great cop who is thrown into the mix after a brief run-in with Malvo. We also see two mercenaries from Fargo, Key and Peele, and plenty of other supporting characters, all who provide very entertaining story lines that are just as enthralling as the main plot.

When Malvo and Lester first meet in the hospital, Malvo hears the story of how an old high school bully punched Lester in the face causing his nose to bleed. Malvo then symbolically gives Lester the keys to hell, offering to kill this man. Lester unknowingly agrees to it. After years of being put down by his wife, Lester grabs a hammer during an argument and proceeds to beat her to death after his conversation with Malvo. This is one of the true “ah jeez” moments of this show that really keeps you interested in what is going on. Any big moment that happens in this show has a reason. There is nothing that is there just for shock value; all actions are calling into question the greed, ambition, and the thirst for a false sense of power that drives all of us. That is really the lesson that we learn from Lester’s story. That the search for things like this can destroy and change lives.

As the show moves on, things in this small town just start to get worse and worse, as the wake of destruction that is called Lorne Malvo continues to wreak havoc on his targets. While Lester is trying to find his new identity as someone who takes charge, all while the police are trying to put together this complex web of events that are occuring. Normally when a show tries to put this many things together at once, it all just falls apart. But its a true testament to the script and how well it is written. It strikes the perfect balance between all sub-plots that doesn’t show too much of one thing or not enough of another. There are a few characters that seem to just disappear at times, but they weren’t characters that were central to the story.

    Overall the way that everything came together by the end of the final episode left me completely satisfied. I won’t spoil what happens in the final episode, but it is a thrill ride that the previous episodes had been leading up to. Ultimately, the ending became about the characters coming to understand their own nature and taking full responsibility for it. Seeing all of these characters come full circle and discover who they really are was an extremely gratifying payoff. I didn’t feel cheated by any of the story lines.

Having this entire story take place over the span of a single ten episode season made watching everything from beginning to end a thrilling ride,  one which I didn’t have to wait years in between to see the story flesh out.

   Fargo ultimately revealed itself to be a refreshing tale of good versus evil. Malvo served as the catalyst to bring out the true nature of the people that he encountered, releasing their inner demons to their highest potential.

FX’s Fargo should now be the standard by which all dark comedies should be judged. With its masterful writing, suspense, humor and mystery, Fargo is television show on par with Breaking Bad and True Detective. It is proof that we are in the golden age of television.

VERDICT : Incredible
Fargo has a perfect mix of darkly comedic violence and compelling story arch’s that are extremely well acted, and proves that we are truly in the golden age of television.
Positive :Fantastic performances all around (especially from Billy-Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman), dark and enjoyable humor, moments that really make you say “ah jeez”, respects the original film, while creating something new, just enough genuine emotion, truly suspenseful, Lester’s transformation, satisfying ending.

Negatives : Some characters aren’t seen again with little explanation as to where they went